Over the last couple years I have watched the Southern California Poetry community take a hard shift. Particularly in the Inland Empire. If you know me, you know I rep A Mic in Dim Lites like a gang and pay homage when ever the opportunity presents its self. For those of you who dont know the story, here it goes:
I started attending Dim Lites when I was 17, I am now a month away from turning 30. Crazy how time passes. I moved from Maryland and had little source of a support system here in California. My background was in dance, not poetry. I was in no sense of the word a “Poet” when I first started. To keep it all the way real, I only had 3 poems, all about how boys suck and how I was a heartbroken mess. When I discovered Dim Lites, a space with only 10 people attending at the time I had no idea how important the power of words could be. As a dancer, movement was everything. It could express all the things my mouth never had the courage to say. Until I was surrounded by people who spoke their stories unashamed, with so much love, it shined through the dimly lit stage and past a microphone. I realized my belief in words not having value only existed because I was never listened to. No matter how un-talented I was when I entered into this community Dim Lites was a safe space, was a family. This was more important than any amount of recognition I recieved. The ability to create a family when you think no one is willing to embrace a hot tempered 17 yr old girl still figuring out who she is can be priceless.
Besskepp, host and founder of Dim Lites, alongside of JB, resident DJ started Dim lites so that people much too far from Los Angeles could have a home to share, to build,and to love. They paid rent without profit from the venue for too long to remember. Dedicated their Thursday’s, every Thursday for 13 years to make sure people had an open door to walk through when the world felt like a boarded up warehouse. This is what community is made of. Dim Lites became the 2nd largest venue in Southern California to run every week. We grew from 10 poets, to well over 100, not because of talent but because of love. We spit poems, cyphered outside, ate afterwards, spoke of dreams and art without the mention of fame and paychecks. You had to earn a place to stand, not through your number of followers on twitter or CD sales but through artistic growth and support. I remember Besskepp, pushing me to become ready enough to even ask for my 1st feature. Nothing was given. It is a privilege to be an artist, to speak into others and has more responsibility than most of us can imagine.
Over the years I have grown tremendously as an artist. Being one of few poets that has lived off of my art. I have been able to do what I love while being a single mother and still paying my own rent, putting food on the table and not having to take another 9-5. But lets be clear, this did not happen over night. I worked, as we would call it, regular ass jobs while building myself as an artist. If you love something enough you sacrifice. I learned this from Besskepp, JB, Mark Gonzalez, Tamara Blue, ManChild, Ami, Ghettospear, Dvooa, and a list of names that made Dim Lites home.
It seems now there is so many people coming into our community or some that have already been here, that have this sense of entitlement that because they have put in a year or two, made a CD and are trying to go on tour with 5 poems in their pocket that they dont have to earn the respect and loyalty of those who paved the roads to even make poetry a space to make money. I was blessed to be brought up, surrounded by poets who did this with their hearts before their wallets. I would go to an open mic, whether Da Lounge, Dim Lights, GREEN, Ugly Mug, World Stage, Doughbois, etc, etc. and see legends in our community share, joke, laugh, encourage and write because it was their way of building a better world for themselves then the one we live in. In one night I could see, Mark Gonzalez, RAC (now Rachel Mckibbens) Bridget Gray, Shihan, Besskepp, Sekou, Steve Connell, Talaam Acey, Jaha Zainabu, Reeves, Alice the Poet, Poetri, In Q and God knows how many others spit. This inspired a next generation of Javon Johnson, Thea Monyee, myself, Gina Loring, C-bone, Nikki Blak, Judy Holiday and the list goes on. Dim Lites was also home to artist other than poets, I remember us being the space where you would see Blu, Aloe Blac, Kevin Sandbloom, Jimetta Rose, Dez Hope, Faahz Triune, before they ever had a name behind them. We were home to San Diego poets Ant Black & Rudy Francisco before Elevated was ever created. To bay area vistors like Saint and Ner City. To wondering poets across the nation looking to feel loved.
This was what creating legacy looked like. This seems absent now.
I started a youth poetry team 5 years ago, because Bess taught me how important it is to invest in our community, to keep it alive. I am proud to say that my kids are some of the best youth poets under 21 that Southern California has to offer including Tammy Vaitai, Tray Bain, Krys Bragg, Ashlyn Elizabeth, Sila, Wasabi, Jacob, April Rojas, Ivan, Jerimiah, who all started at Dim Lights. But this was not done by myself alone. These kids are a reflection of so many of us from Me to Javon Johnson, to Shihan, to Bess, to Rudy Francisco, to Ant Black. All of this to say, if we are not encouraging and supporting those people who never thought words had value then how will they ever discover their story is important. If we are not supporting the venues that were created for all of us to have a safe space then they will die. If venues are not working towards making each other better then we are no better than the vultures that tear us down. If we are not loving those who may not know how to write their story well enough to wow a crowd how will they ever grow to be better?
I would have never in a million years thought I could do half of things I’ve done with poetry, but because of people who had faith in art, and loved no matter how terrible the metaphor was, lol, I was able to accomplish so much more than I ever imagined. Dim Lights is a legacy, is a home, is an open door. I ask that if you want these places to stay alive, to a provide a place to build community and most of all family, don’t just Re tweet this or Re post, but come support. Listen. Learn. Share. A Mic & Dim Lights have survived 13 years, moving into 3 different venues, generations changing, competing venues showcasing on the same night but we can not continue without your loyalty, and love. Join us every Thursday we’ll be “sitting our asses in these soft ass chairs” ” building insight” at A MIC IN DIM LIGHTS!
300 W. 2nd St. Pomona CA 91767
Your Ride or Die Alumni,